By Henry Akubuiro
Anybody passing through the hitherto underutilised National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, last week, would notice an unusual traffic. A screaming banner in front of the stadium offered a hint, welcoming delegates to the 35th edition of National Festival of Arts and Culture (Eko Nafest), and delegates, visitors and entrepreneurs were enraptured in the warmth of Nigeria’s iconic metropolitan city.
From Monday 7 to Sunday, November, 2022, artists, culture administrators, students, culture enthusiasts and entrepreneurs poured into Lagos for the annual national cultural fiesta. The delegates came from almost 30 states of the federation, including the FCT., to participate in different arts and cultural competitions, and above all, be immersed in the comfort of the theme, “Culture and Peaceful Coexistence.”
The National Institute for Sports at the National Stadium wore a new look. Lagos State Government, led by Governor Sanwo-Olu, had already rehabilitated a mini stadium, the handball court, and the basketball court got a face-lift and a large marque was readied for all round activities. The cultural market boomed and another market created outside the basketball court thrived with sundry wares. From the east, west, south and north, Nigerians forgot religious and ethnic differences to compete and network.
All through the festival, the Director General of National Council for Arts and Culture emphasised on the theme of the festival: Nigerians got to unite under a peaceful atmosphere. The festival was a testrun, and there was a high mark at the end of the day.
Nafest was created to promote Nigeria’s culture and talents. That showed in the variety of programmes on parade: drama, fashion competition, dance, music, cuisine, interior design competition, essay competition for students, skills acquisition, cultural parade. Nigeria’s rich culture and colours radiated all day long while the festival lasted.
Monday evening treated delegates to an Osusu spectacle, a dramatic performance enacted by the Lagos State Cultural Troupe, which offered a sneak view of Nigeria’s historical past, its conglomerate and divisions, and the overriding need to live in peace and harmony. The ace thespian, Soibifaa Dokubo, played the role of the narrator and Biodun Ayoginka, Papa Ajasco, was a sight for sore eyes.
The ingenuity of Nigerian fashion designers using Indigenous fabrics came to the fore at the festival. Traditional fabrics, such as aso oke, ankara, isi agu, akwete, among others, were used by different states to create outfits for security details in a typical hotel, waiter/waitress, receptionists and chefs, making the conventional ones in the streets drab by comparison.
Speaking at the opening of the traditional fashion competition, Otunba Runsewe said Nigeria “is the best place to be” and we only needed to sort out our differences, adding, “What we are promoting is local fabrics, and I assure you, you would see a lot of them during this programme. We must continue to promote our own fabrics.
The drama competition saw many on the edge of their seats. Woven around the theme of the festival, each state interpreted it differently, but dance, songs and traditional costumes were deployed. In most of the performances, disagreements and fights were even, but the performances were resolved amicably to reinforce the overriding theme. The Ekiti State contingents provided a coup de drama in the meanwhile. Its improvisation of a tree with many fruits was emblematic of a rich Nigeria, and the scramble for it by a few was also symptomatic of the often talked about greed.
The drama, with its juxtapositions of ethnic bickering, hatred and protests, offered us a mirror to see our foibles. The good news was that the drama charted a course for national rebirth. The statuesque scenes and soiled costumes told many stories in one.
Eko Nafest also featured a roundtable on cultural Entrepreneurship where Otunba said, ‘’A lot of people misunderstand this sector. This sector is not about beating drums.” That explained why NCAC recognised the involvement of the National Population Commission, which took advantage of the festival to promote the forthcoming 2023 Census, which it promised would be digitalised and most accurate.
He appealed to all that “we must tell the Nigerian story well” and “every component of Nafest comes back to economic empowerment.” The spirit of the new Nafest, he informed, started in 2018 when the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, turned the entire sector. He also gave a wonderful donation to every state to reinvent Indigenous fabrics, “and most of what’s going is as a result of that,” he said.
Chairman of the occasion, Jonathan Cooker, in his remarks at the entrepreneurship confab, described
entrepreneurship as “the sum total of the efforts to develop, organise and run a new business in the mind of generating profit while taking financial risk, driven by the passion to render business.”
The entrepreneurs in the culture sector, he outlined, included but not limited to fashion designers, sculpture, traders, restaurateurs, gallery owners, hairdressers, music promoters, and journalists on the beat. “They are all legitimate stakeholders who are interested in the sustainable development of the National economy,” he said.
Above all, “Their success depends on how well they hone their skills” and mastery of market forces. Apart from the grace of God, “their success also depends on having a peaceful environment to develop and market their goods,” he said.
Dr Stanley Ohenhen, of the Theatre Arts Department, Bowen University, Osun State, revisited “Culture and Peaceful Coexistence” where he state that “it’s important we understand that we are brands and ambassadors of constituencies we represent, and the way people see us, your people see you, your community sees you and constituency perceives you are very important.”
He emphasised the need for mutual coexistence by Nigerians, noting, “our cultural consciousness gives us an identity and sense of belonging”, and because of our cultural heritage, we can be able to identify ourselves as either a Nigerian, an Igbo, a Bini, a Yoruba or an Hausa, adding that the food we eat also distinguishes us. “
Out of the blues, 14-year old Precious Olabanjo from Ogun State, who cried a river of tears, for not featuring in the essay competition, hogged the limelight by luck. She was meant to be a backup to the state’s candidate for the essay competition, but she thought she had come to Lagos to compete like others. When reality dawned on her she couldn’t participate in the competition, she wept.
The story wasn’t an unhappy ending, though, as she would have thought, for the humane side of Otunba Runsewe, the spirit of festival, saw her visiting the Governor’s Lodge to meet with Governor Sanwo-Olu and his wife, Dr. Ibinoke Danwo-Olu, who happened to be Mama Nafest. Like other kids from the participating states, she went home with a brand new laptop and sundry gifts.
On the sixth day of Nafest, Otunba Runsewe and the wisemen of Nafest visited the kitchens of states participating in a cuisine competition. While the chefs did the cooking inside, spectacular, traditional dances entertained all. There was free palm wine for everybody. Kano State added acrobatics to their display. As night crawled in, Otunba Runsewe’s team visited the cultural market where he commended the exhibition mounted by the Nigerian Navy. Alariwo of Africa and Sir Peter Shina brought the roof down a little later.
The handball court, which hosted the skills acquisition centre, drew participants of all sexes and across ages, who had come to learn different crafts, like weaving, jewelry making, hairstyling and designs. Daily Sun spoke with a group of three youngsters (Akiola Daniel, Akiola Worship and Obareye Lekan), SS1 students from Ijegun, who had come to learn weaving.
Lekan said it took them only a day to learn the craft. “We are happy we are able to grab it so fast, and we are sure we are going to make a lot of money out of it,” he said.
Akiola Worship added: “Instead of wasting your time playing all the time, it’s good to put your effort into learning a craft. You can gain money. In this way, you can support your parents in buying books and paying school fees.”
His brother, Daniel, would like to thank the National Council for Arts and Culture for the wonderful opportunity given them to learn a new craft: “It’s a wonderful idea for us students and others to acquire more skills and knowledge at Eko Nafest.”
A breakdown of competition results showed Lagos State winning the overall prize while Rivers and Bayelsa were joint 2nd. Ekiti took the 3rd position. In the children’s essay competition, Lagos and Rivers shared the laurel, while Lagos alone won the children’s art and craft competition.
The Ashley competition was won by Lagos and Nasarawa State jointly, while Rivers/Ekiti shared the children’s music and dance prize. Lagos and Bayelsa jointly won the traditional board game, while Indigenous fabrics for fashion prize was claimed by Bayelsa. The prize for indigenous materials for interior decorations went to Kano. Ekiti won the drama prize.
At the closing ceremony on Sunday, November 13, Lagos State Governor, represented by his deputy, Femi Hamzat, reiterated that “if we pay enough attention to harnessing the differences in our culture, it can assist in building consensus and bond of friendship towards genuine reconciliation that will promote the much needed unity, reduce tension and tribal conflicts in the country.”
Otunba Runsewe, who addressed journalists at the end of the festival, said: “There is hope for Nigeria.”